Top 10 ACT English Grammar Rules

Top 10 Grammar Rules to Beat ACT English

The ACT English test will be the first one you take, so you’ll want to get yourself off to a good start. The ACT English test contains 75 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 45 minutes. The questions are divided among 5 essays that have 15 questions each. It’s important to think about the passages as short essays that a fellow student has written and you’ve been asked to peer-review.

While you read through the essays, you don’t need to remember every grammar rule. Instead, think about the common grammar rules that are sure to be tested. By focusing on what you know you’ll see, you can increase your score while reducing the amount of time and energy you spend on each question.

The 10 most common ACT English grammar rules

  • 1. Run-ons & Fragments

    A complete sentence contains a subject, a predicate verb, and a complete thought. If any of the three is lacking, the sentence is called a fragment. A run-on contains too much information, usually because two independent clauses (two complete thoughts) are being improperly combined.

  • 2. Verbs: Subject-Verb Agreement & Verb Tenses

    The ACT English section often includes long sentences in which the main subject and the verb are separated by many words or clauses. If you identify the subject of each sentence and make sure the verb matches it, you can ace this grammar rule. In addition, the ACT tests your knowledge of past, present, future, past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect tenses.

  • 3. Punctuation

    Commas, apostrophes, colons, semicolons, dashes, periods, question marks, and exclamation points are all tested on the ACT. Know how to tackle them to grab some quick points on this test.

  • 4. Idioms

    Idioms are expressions native to the English language. Two-part idioms are commonly tested such as “neither…nor” and ”not only…but also” as well as prepositional idioms like “opposed TO” and “participate IN.” The ACT will also test verb and preposition idioms. Both of these types can be tricky because there is not a list of rules. Instead of trying to memorize each one, you should practice to get a sense of which idioms come up frequently.

  • 5. Wordiness

    As long as there are no new grammar errors introduced, the shortest answer choice is often correct. Redundancy is a type of wordiness where the same thing is said twice such as “happy and joyful.” Keep it simple and to the point.

  • 6. Parallel Structure

    Parallelism is tested on the ACT English test in the context of phrases or items in a list. In parallel construction, the phrases or items must be in the same form. This can be tested with a number of parts of speech: nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.

  • 7. Pronouns

    The most common error associated with pronouns is pronoun-antecedent agreement. The antecedent is the word the pronoun is replacing. A pronoun must have a clear antecedent in the sentence. Sometimes the antecedent is present, but will disagree with the pronoun in number. A less common error is the ambiguous pronoun in which a pronoun could represent more than one noun. For example, “The president and his adviser spoke for hours before he reached a decision.” The pronoun ‘he’ could be referring to the president or the adviser, so it is incorrect.

  • 8. Modifiers: Adjectives/Adverbs & Modifying Phrases

    Modifiers are words and phrases that describe nouns. Adjectives modify nouns, and adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Be on the lookout for suspicious adverb-noun and adjective-verb pairings. Also be aware that many sentences will begin with a modifying phrase and a comma. The subject after the comma must be the person or thing doing the action of the modifying phrase.

  • 9. Word Choice: Transitions & Diction

    Pay attention to transition words and phrases to make sure they reflect the author’s purpose. Transitions can demonstrate continuation, contrast, or cause-and-effect. In addition, the ACT may try to fool you by using words that sounds similar to the intended words, but do not make sense in context (for example, replacing “could have” with “could of”).

  • 10. Organization and Strategy

    The ACT English section will ask you to determine the order and focus of sentences or paragraphs. You will also be asked about adding, revising, or deleting sentences as well as how a sentence fits with the purpose, audience, and focus of a paragraph or the essay as a whole.

ACT English Tips and Strategies